India’s Nasty Side

There are without doubt many incredible things about living in India. India, in fact, has given me the opportunity to do things and see things that I could never have done back in England. In just 6 months, I have learnt more about the world and myself than I could have done in 10 years in the UK. India has taught me that people can preserver in the face of hopelessness; they can smile and be happy when all else seems lost.

India has also shown me that it is a disgustingly racist.

‘All my life, I thought I was ugly. All my life, people told my mum that my sister was beautiful and I was not. When I married, I always worried that my husband found me too ugly’. This from a beautiful woman not just internally but also externally. Why had she been brought up to believe she was so ugly? Why? She was darker skinned than her sister. In a society that values white skin, the darker you are, the more you are perceived to be ugly.

My maid told me that her brother (who is very dark skinned) is consistently told by his wife (who is quite light skinned) that she doesn’t deserve such an ugly husband. She deserves someone more handsome – i.e. whiter skinned. How degrading for the husband (especially as this was a love marriage – she made her own decision to marry him) and how confusing and upsetting for their children to overhear.

Not only does your skin colour seem to determine your level of beauty but it also seems to determine whether or not you are trustworthy. The darker your skin the more likely you are to be stopped and searched or as is the case more frequently, the darker your skin, the more likely security guards will make it difficult for you to enter housing societies or worse again to get jobs or promotions.

rg_housing_advert_sm
Opportunities – leisure, positive future – what percentage of people in this image are dark skinned?

As you drive around India today or you visit friends have a look around. Just how many cleaning staff, maids, drivers, security guards look like the people above? Just how many senior managers or even junior managers don’t look like the people above.  I do not know a single maid or driver that I would not consider dark skinned – not a single one. Perhaps that is just Pune but something tells me it is not.

I am never anymore than superficially searched – I could carry anything in anywhere! Sometimes I feel like shouting – ‘you know I’m Irish, we have terrorist organisations too – how about you trust me less!’ Other times, our car is not searched while the car in front of us is checked carefully. It’s OK though – I’m a white foreigner so you don’t need to check me!

White is associated with trustworthiness, education and aspiration. All you need to do is walk down any ‘beauty’ aisle in a supermarket to realise that everything comes with skin whitener in it. The only anti-perspirant I can buy in India is also whitening – whitening for my armpits! When a society worries about whether its armpits are white enough that is when you know a society has a serious problem with racism.

Skin-whitening-night-creams-in-india

It takes 1 minute to find tips to becoming whiter online and it takes only moments to realise that the international beauty companies are in cahoots with a society that puts white over well what you really are.

A stranger prior to coming to India if they only watched Bollywood movies, saw adverts and read celebrity magazines could be forgiven for thinking that India was actually a ‘white’ country. The fact that Bollywood has now started recruiting white teenage girls from the UK with no Indian heritage to come and be turned into Bollywood stars indicates just how white you need to be to get ahead.

Just check out this list of the top 10 Bollywood stars of 2015. Not a single face is anything other than almost white. Where are the role models there for those that do not look like them?

2015 Top Bollywood Actresses

You could be forgiven for thinking based on the advertising hoardings for new housing societies that frolicking in the gardens of ‘Crystal Society’ or ‘Westminster Lodge’ were happy little English families – only difference perhaps being that these ‘English’ families are wearing saris and salwar kameez!

As a new comer to this country, I try to avoid falling into the trap of saying that everything in the UK is great and comparing it to India and finding India lacking. That, to me, just isn’t realistic and it isn’t fair.  Just ask any average British person on the street in the UK at the moment about their attitudes to Syrian refugees and it won’t take you long to find a revolting response to the crisis.

I can however judge the racism I see in India as unacceptable. I see racism here that would have been considered deplorable in the UK 20 years ago. Someone told me recently that on a WhatsApp group she received a picture of a white person and a images-2black person with the caption –  Oreo Cookie!

How this was perceived as acceptable to share as a joke is inconceivable. Sometimes racism is an outcome of ignorance and often this ignorance is driven by lack of opportunities to broaden your view of the world, a lack of opportunity to experience more than the  world simply around you. This lack of opportunity is often driven by not being able to afford to get outside of the world you live in.

This WhatsApp group, on the other hand, was a group for children at an international school. It was sent by an Indian who had the resources to pay the very high school fees and I can also assume consider it worth doing so the children could expand their horizons. These would be the very parents who would be more likely to have the time and money to break down the ignorance that such racism stems from. If parents at this level of society fail to see how wrong their racism is, how will others with less opportunities deal with such things?

In the UK, as a teacher I always felt it was crucial to consistently show young people that they didn’t have to be stick thin to be beautiful despite what celebrity culture said. I didn’t however have to try and convince them that they shouldn’t try and change something that is ultimately unchangeable – who they are – what their ethnic make-up was / what their skin colour was. While there are not enough role models from different ethnic groupings in the UK, there are role models.

Here it feels like the only role models are almost white. What does that say to the young girl or boy who is dark skinned when in reality there is nothing they can do to change it or indeed there is no real reason to need to change it? What does it say? It says: ‘you are worth less than those lighter coloured skinned people. You should not aspire to as much because you are not beautiful, you are not aspirational, you are not wanted.’ What sort of a message is that for India to send its own people?

‘Two Forces’ shows ‘classical’ Britain using the sword to protect themselves against Irish ‘rebels’. Notice the difference in stance, demeanour and look.

I too come from a land that was formerly colonised by the British Empire – Ireland. I too lived in a land where for centuries to be Irish was seen as being less than British. Just like Indians, the Irish were laughed at in Britain for being ‘bog trotters’ – basically unsophisticated idiots. Now the days of colonialism are long gone for both nations (Ireland became independent in 1948) but we shouldn’t forget that we were once looked down upon and therefore to look down upon your own is almost a greater sin than being looked down upon by a foreign agent.

I teach the children in my classrooms that unless they respect themselves nobody will respect them. Well, if India does not respect the fact that is is not an homogenous or more or less white Hindu country but rather a country of so many religions and of none; of so many ethnic groups; mixed ethnic groups; and mixed skin colours than how can it expect to be respected around the world.

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6 thoughts on “India’s Nasty Side”

  1. Excellently written. I live in Saudi Arabia and I was also shocked at the high level of racism here, whitening creams are available in abundance but more strikingly; any person working as a maid/driver/job perceived as ‘lower’ is always Indian, Pakistani or Philippino. Unfortunately these races tend to be treated as a lesser class of people and from what I’ve seen are treated with little to no respect.
    It’s really difficult for me to deal with so I find it really interesting to read what you’ve written about your experiences in India. I’m looking forward to reading your other blog posts 🙂

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    1. It is shocking but yes, I have heard it is much worse in Saudi Arabia and places like Dubai. What I hate is the discrimination shown towards fellow ethnic Indians who have lived in the country as long as those discriminating!

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      1. Karen, thank you for sharing such an obvious truth of disparity in global perspective! Can’t get any simpler coming from a white expat herself. Lots of respect to you!
        I am an Indian, brown skinned who was lived and travelled to many continents in the past 10 years. In the light of the color racism; growing up in India, I’ve felt, heard and experienced it hands-on. Comments from older folks such as, “that’s a Fair (white) looking baby, very pretty”, “She is so fair, she’d easily get a handsome groom” or folk songs explaining white as beautiful was part of life. I remember while in college, being a ton confused with boys going all crazy over a girl who was just mostly nothing but white as snow. I failed to see anything beyond. It was disturbing to think that my role model or idea of beauty wasn’t “white” as opposed to the real world around me.
        It is to me, most frustrating when educated, literate people associate beauty to color and not intelligence or strength or pure heart.
        There is good news and bad. Good being, according to me, a decent percentage of the population today, realize or have the potential to understand and respect and enjoy the differences. Bad being, the rest of the population where the color racism is prevalent for reasons you very rightfully and thoughtfully point out in your statement, “sometimes racism is an outcome of ignorance and often this ignorance is driven by lack of opportunities to broaden your view of the world, a lack of opportunity to experience more than the world simply around you. This lack of opportunity is often driven by not being able to afford to get outside of the world you live in.” A member of our extended family held a strong opinion of the white folks in the past. When she travelled and visited us in different countries, it changed her entire perspective on the white culture. She realized how much it meant to know the difference between her assumptions and the reality.
        Brazilians love the “gringos” (white expats) and to add to it, if you speak English, then you are a goddess. When we lived in Denver, my 6 year old wanted to quit ballet because when she practiced facing the mirror with her peers, all she could see was her dark color. Explaining to her how to love who she is and how she is loved for reasons beyond her color was one of the most important and heartfelt conversation with my 6 year old. What was even more important is that people’s (friends, teachers, peers, parents and causal encounters) actions and treatment toward her were a testimony or reassurance to my words. There were only a couple of instances where her peers pointed out that she was different from the rest or wondered why. Those couple of times we let her know that her friends hadn’t travelled much just yet like she did, to know that there are many different colored people and different cultures around the world. Also May be someday when and if they would, they would find themselves different from the rest.
        The only significant unsaid point being how the difference is treated and what is it associated with. It is ok to be fascinated by something new, different or something you don’t experience on a daily basis and also may be respect it for the right reasons. However to associate privilege and/or power with that difference is disheartening.
        When I was a little girl, the national TV in India played a song that called for Unity in Diversity; ‘mile sur mera tumhara’. I think it worked! A TV campaign to encourage parents to treat boys and girls equally and educating girls was also on the high. While I grew up in a liberal and privileged environment it was somehow oddly sad to know that those differences did exist somewhere around me. May be, I think a time has now come for a TV/Radio campaign to convey that beauty lies not necessarily with the hypocrisy of turning “white” but the glow that comes with the intelligence of the mind, strength through fitness, Self-respect and healthy DARK/BROWN skin!!! Like all else, it may be just a start or it might help only a few! Something will be better than nothing. We have transitioned and transcended through many adversities in India and this could be yet another one of those to overcome, if realized and addressed. It could be very well end up being a ‘Coke’ story, where you know you are drinking heaps of sugar but still can’t resist.

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  2. By what I know is that it all started in the mid 18th century when the British started their governance in India. The British were termed as the whites and Indians were frequently told that the higher posts belonged only to whites. The whites discriminated and often called them untouchables as they were black. The British rule continued for almost two hundred years in India and the discrimination got into the roots of Indians. Thus they got preference for white and the sad part is even after 63 years of their independence they have not been able to come up from racism.
    (this is only my theory)

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    1. This is my understanding too. In addition, if you work in the sun you get darker, if you have a ‘better’ job inside you don’t – hence traditionally the lighter skinned you are the wealthier you are, the better marriage prospect you are etc b

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